The 12th Game

Phillip Fulmer may be nervous. The board of directors of the NCAA has approved a 12th game for Division 1A teams beginning in 2006. As things stand now, there are only two open dates (bye weeks) in college football. Fulmer, the head coach at Tennessee, ordinarily is given those before the Vols' games with Alabama and Florida.

One can imagine that Fulmer was hoping that he could find another bye week. After all, now South Carolina is coached by his old nemesis, Steve Spurrier, and presumably the Southeastern Conference would provide Tennessee with yet another open date to prepare for a big game. Instead, it looks like in 2006 Fulmer will lose one of his two bye weeks–before either the Alabama or Florida games–assuming the Vols take advantage of the windfall that comes with an additional home football game.

Indeed, Fulmer's problems with Spurrier are such that he may give up the open dates before both the Crimson Tide and the Gators in order to have the extra preparation time for South Carolina.

Experts say each home game is worth about $3 million. At Tennessee, where the seats have been squeezed to a size about half the width of, oh, say, Fulmer's fanny, there are over 100,000 on hand for each home game, so the money that could be raised is likely even more.

The college football season begins the first weekend in September (there are exceptions with games in late August for special events and in certain years for all teams) and ends with the final weekend in November for SEC teams. That's because the SEC Championship Game is the first weekend in December.

Alabama once had two bye weeks during the season, one usually about midway through the year and another prior to the Auburn game. When the SEC Championship Game was established and Alabama was a regular participant, the Crimson Tide made arrangements to change from an open date before Auburn to an open date prior to the SEC title game.

The SEC schedule-makers have more than just the problem of giving Tennessee the open dates needed by the Vols. In recent years the league office has seemed to go out of its way to make sure that most SEC teams get an open date before playing Alabama. That could prove more difficult as 12th games are added.

Teams like Tennessee took open dates during the year (before the Florida and Alabama games in most years) and played all the way through the end of November. The Vols traditionally finish the last two Saturdays in November against SEC lightweights Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Expect the college football heavyweights to take advantage of the 12th game to add an additional home game. That is a good thing for the athletics departments coffers, but not necessarily a good thing for college football fans.

In the event teams like Alabama use the 12th game to add an attractive intersectional game, such as against Penn State, the problem for the athletics director is that he gets only one additional home game each two years. In other words, only about half the loot.

If the athletics director goes for the big payoff, fans get an additional home game–in the case of Alabama and most SEC teams an eighth home game. And all-too-often that eighth opponent will have part of a compass in its name.

SEC teams play eight conference games each year, four home and four on the road. Alabama, and most other major college teams, feel the need to have at least seven home games. That means only rarely will athletics directors of schools like UCLA, Oklahoma, and Alabama schedule a series as Bama and the Bruins and the Crimson Tide and the Sooners did earlier this decade. Instead, teams of that ilk will opt for Northeast Montana Institute, or some such.

The NCAA board of directors gave athletics directors an opportunity to make the 12th game even less attractive by allowing Division 1A teams to schedule games against Division 1AA teams and those games counting in a major college's requirement of six victories to be bowl eligible. Previously schools could count such games only once every four years.

TOMORROW: What will Alabama do in scheduling a 12th game?

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